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State of the NCO Corps, March 2011
Saturday, 05 March 2011 13:30
Greetings Marines!

Welcome back to the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of the local NCO club, where the meetings open in the traditional manner (Jacks or better, nothing wild but Top) and we often join in the NCO’s Prayer (Oh <Insert Supreme Power of your choice>, NOW what?).

One of the responsibilities of the SGM SFMC is maintaining the NCO Chain of Support by recruiting and retaining enlisted Marines. One handicap to that effort is that nobody seems to know how many enlisted members the SFMC has now, let alone how many it had at some point in the past. So, it is a bit difficult to know whether I am effectively doing that part of my job.

Enter BGEN Norm DeRoux, OIC of the 5th BDE, who took it upon himself to include the numbers of enlisted members in each unit of his brigade in his February report, and make sure that I got a copy. So, for at least one brigade of the SFMC, I finally have some hard numbers to report, and use as a baseline.

In the 5th BDE, 39 of the 120 Marines shown on their February report are enlisted. Breaking it down by unit, some have no enlisted members and some have half their rosters in the enlisted ranks, for an average of 23 percent enlisted members in each unit. If we consider only the units that HAVE enlisted members, the average jumps to 35 percent. Or to put it more simply, units in the 5th BDE that have enlisted members have, on average, 14 Marines, and 5 of those are enlisted.

Another very interesting number jumps out at me from the data. In the 5th BDE, there is a pretty strong relationship between the number of active vs reserve Marines in a unit, and the number of enlisted members. On average, the number of enlisted members is about 70 percent of the total number of Active members. Whether this is a quirk or a trend that indicates enlisted members of the SFMC are most likely to be Active is something that will require more data.

Of course, every brigade is different, and it would be foolish to apply the numbers from just one to the Corps as a whole. As I write this, COL Jari James, DCOFORCECOM, is working on getting me more data as the February reports come in, and I hope to be able to report soon on the actual percentage of enlisted members in the SFMC as a whole. My thanks to both COL James and BGEN DeRoux for their assistance and initiative in providing me with this information.

Another area of responsibility I have is encouraging and supporting community service efforts throughout the Corps. We live in uncertain times, from flooding and earthquakes Down Under that directly affect our members in the 11th BDE to economic constraints that affect so many of us here in the US in the form of reduced governmental services. No effort you can make is too small when it comes to giving back to your community. Keep up the good work, Marines, and please let me know about the contributions you make in terms of time and effort so I can share them with the rest of the Corps.

I would like to thank SGM Brian Chappell, 1 BDE SGM for the update he sent this month. SGM Chappell is also concerned with finding ways a Marine in a rural area, or even a handicapped Marine can make a positive effect in their community, and is busy coming up with ideas. I look forward to hearing more from him, and other BDE NCOICs.  If you have any ideas, feel free to drop me a line.

A while back, I promised to look into the idea of creating the post of Color Sergeant of the SFMC. This is just an update to let you all know I have not abandoned the idea of having another high level enlisted post in the Corps. The problem is the prime ceremonial duty of the Color SGT of the USMC (the privilege of carrying the USMC colors on ceremonial occasions) drew feedback that it was seen as stepping on the toes of various BDE Color/Honor Guards. Toss in the fact that I would want the post to actually have duties, and it means I am back to the drawing board. One suggestion is to farm the Color SGT out to FORCECOM and put them to work on recruiting and retention projects. Your further input and comment is requested.

One thing I would like to address in this report is a persistent rumor concerning me personally. For the record, I do NOT sleep with a copy of the MFM under my pillow, and I do NOT have it committed to memory. I simply have a copy of the current MFM (and the associated Policy Manual) on my computer, a rough familiarity with what is in each section, and the knowledge that Acrobat Reader has a Search function that lets me find things pretty quickly when I need to. Why, yes, Marines, that IS a hint. Always be sure, though, that you have the LATEST edition of a particular reference, be it the MFM or the SFI Membership Handbook.

Now, sometimes The Book may not be particularly clear on something, or there may even be what you perceive to be an error, or even a common or garden variety typo that should be cleared up. In that case, feel free to contact the GS and get it straightened out.

You can contact the SFMC General Staff with any questions or concerns you have. The email addresses are ALL on the SFMC web page, and their doors are always open. Your questions and input are always welcome and needed. And, if you are not sure of which particular member of the GS is best equipped to deal with your question or comment, I can assure you that no matter which one you send it to, they will make sure it gets to the right person.

Finally, let’s take a look at Top’s History Lesson. One phenomenon that we see from time to time is that of the “reverse mustang”” where an SFMC officer resigns their commission and becomes an enlisted member of the Corps. Some folks wonder how realistic that is. Well, in 1915, 2LT William Scurry of the Australian Citizens Forces (their Army Reserve), who had come up through the ranks, resigned his commission and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a Private in the 7th Battalion to fight in World War One.

Arriving at Gallipoli right about the time the Powers That Be decided to evacuate the beaches there, Scurry, now a lance corporal, helped come up with an ingenious but simple invention that allowed the evacuation to proceed without tipping off the enemy. Using two tin cans, the upper dripping water into the lower, he created the “self firing rifle”. When the water in the lower can reached the proper level, the weight pulled the trigger, and sporadic rifle fire from the ANZAC trenches gave the illusion that they were still manned, keeping the enemy off the backs of the troops quietly withdrawing. For his brilliant improvisation, Scurry received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Mentioned in Despatches (an award signifying he was officially written up in praise for his actions.)

Scurry was also promoted to sergeant, and then later, became an officer again, coming full circle and beyond as he finished WW One as a captain in charge of a mortar battery. In that role, he won the Military Cross. In World War Two, he reenlisted, and was in charge of a detention camp, finally rising to the rank of Major.

But his place in history is that of Lance Corporal Scurry, inventor of the self firing rifle that saved so many lives at Gallipoli, a mustang who became a reverse mustang, and then a mustang again.

Semper Fi!

MGSGT Jerome A. "Hawk" Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the Starfleet Marines

I want to lead off this month with a request on behalf of an old friend, a retired real world NCO who is also a SGT in the SFMC. SGT Frank “Uncle Grumpy” Stevens and I have known each other for over thirty years, and some of the stunts we pulled in the past are probably still not fit for discussion without presence of legal counsel. We have seen each other through good times and not so good times, and this is one of those not so good times for him.

Very recently, as a result of prior medical problems, he was rushed to the hospital and they were forced to amputate part of his left leg. This is hard on anyone, but SGT Stevens, in his words, “turned seventeen for the FOURTH time” this year, and his health has been in a downhill slide. Fortunately, his general stubbornness and warped sense of humor is seeing him through. (He has requested an SFMC Issue, one each, Parrot, Squawking type, and Peg Leg, wooden). Please keep a good thought out for him as he goes through the process of rehabilitation. (And I’ll try and get those requisitions expedited through Supply)

When it comes to community service, I have often urged Marines to be creative, and look for unexpected benefits. This past month, the 503rd MSG did just that when they committed to putting in thirty six man-hours of community service at the park (mostly clean-up) in exchange on a discounted rate for the state park site they were using for their annual campout. They ended up putting in forty hours, and the park wants them back anytime. Nice thinking out of the box, Marines!

Speaking of boxes, and community service, if your unit is not well underway with its plans for giving a hand with Toys for Tots this year, take the initiative and light a fire under them.

And, let’s not forget, as I write this, we’re only about a month away from November 11th. I hope all of us take the time to do what we can to say “thanks” and lend what aid we can to all the veterans out there.

Please take the time to let me know about the accomplishments of enlisted members in your area, and your unit’s community service efforts. I would really love to be able to take the time in my monthly report to let the rest of the Corps know about it. (And, despite Marine tradition, I am neither all knowing nor all seeing.)

And, please feel free to contact the SFMC General Staff with any questions or concerns you have. The email addresses are ALL on the SFMC web page, and their doors are always open. Your questions and input are always welcome and needed.

Now it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. This time I want to take you way back to the roots of the NCO: the centurions of the Roman legions. There are a LOT of stories to choose from, including a few saints, a possible basis for part of the Arthurian legend, or even the story of two bitter rivals who saved each other’s lives in one historic battle. But, I had to choose just one for this month and so I decided to introduce you to a man for whom no image has come down through history, for whom we know nothing about as far as his personal life is concerned, and yet who stands as a shining example for every NCO (and every Marine).

It was January 15, in the year 69 AD. Galba, the emperor who had replaced Nero, and his deputy emperor Piso Licinianus were travelling through the streets of Rome when they were set upon by a large number of members of the Praetorian Guard (the Imperial bodyguard unit) in the employ of Marcus Otho. Otho was furious that he had been passed over for the position of deputy emperor, and had decided to seize the throne, suborning members of the Praetorian Guard to use as his weapon.

The Praetorians escorting Galba and Piso either quickly switched sides, joining the attacking party, or just as quickly discovered someplace else they had to be right about then and melted away into the streets …all but one. Centurion Sempronius Densus had no special reason to love or honor Galba (who was apparently notoriously stingy, and not given to paying, much less rewarding his troops), but there was one thing he DID love and honor: his duty as a Roman soldier.

According to Plutarch: “First, lifting up his switch of vine, with which the centurions correct the soldiers when disorderly, he called aloud to the aggressors, charging them not to touch their emperor. And when they came upon him hand-to-hand, he drew his sword, and made a defense for a long time, until at last he was cut under the knees and brought to the ground.”

Savor those words, Marines. One man, a veteran soldier, facing down a small army on his own, and the FIRST reaction he has is to give them what was probably the chewing out of their lives, reminding them of the duty that he would not forsake. I like to think he treated the bunch of them like a group of hopeless recruits who messed up in training. When words did not win the day, he turned to action, and held his own against impossible odds until he got taken down from behind.

Galba and Piso were both killed, and Otho became emperor, but only for a short time, as he was deposed by Vitellius, who was in turn deposed by Vespasian. It would go down as the “Year of Four Emperors” in Roman history, and that January 15th was generally accounted as a shameful day, with one exception: the gallant last stand of Sempronius Densus, “the single man among so many thousands that the sun beheld that day act worthily of the Roman empire”  (Plutarch) A bit later than Plutarch, the historian Cassius Dio also told the story, and singled out Sempronius for praise, and I will close this history lesson with his final thoughts on the lone centurion who stood up for what he believed was right that day:

"This is why I have recorded his name, for he is most worthy of being mentioned." Darn straight!

Semper Fi!